Friday, January 7, 2011
Pray Without Ceasing
I once thought it was a terrible thing that our minds worked the way they do. People would tell me how hard it is to remain fully focused upon the liturgy and how easy it was for their minds and hearts to run like racehorses from text to text, thought to thought. They would ask me how to control their minds and hearts, which seemed to have a life of their own they could not compel. I had no answer. Now I am beginning to see that this is how it is -- how it is supposed to be, I do not know, but I know that this is indeed how it is. Our minds and hearts are not like records which deep grooves that keep cycling through the same thing over and over again. When that happens it is more a sign that something is wrong rather than something is right. We move and move and move in thought and feeling. You can no more compel your mind and heart to stop dancing through things in this way than you can compel yourself to be intelligent or moral.
To pray without ceasing is not some impossible dream of time that slips away as our minds and hearts remain fixed in focus upon one thought. To pray without ceasing is the joining of prayer to works and works done prayerfully so that all we are and all we do comes together and is lifted in Christ to the Father. In this respect, prayer leads us not away from work but into the work of the Church and Christ's work and the work of the Church and Christ's work lead us back into prayer. It is a marvelous cycle of words and actions, thoughts and deeds.
I think it was Augustine who said "Pray as if everything depended upon God and work as if everything depended upon you..." Perhaps he inspired Jeremy Taylor who said, "Work as if you were to live a hundred years. Pray as if you were to die tomorrow..." And I cannot recall who said "do not pray for something you are not willing to work for and do not work for something you would be ashamed to pray for..." In all of these it is never a matter of choosing one or the other. It is through works offered to God prayerfully and prayers lived out in our works that we understand how it is that prayer is continuous and not simply an isolated petition here and there in an otherwise distracted life.
For a long time I lamented the way my heart and mind could not be compelled by the force of my will to be still. Now I have come to see that such stillness is an unattainable reality for mortal flesh and blood. Better to see prayer as extending into the realm of one's words and works and one's words and works becoming prayer so that we can say truthfully and without pride that we truly do pray without ceasing.